Dear Thomas,
I have been married for 23 years now. We have two boys, ages 22 and 17. Both my husband and I are professionals, and I have my own career. However, for many years, I have progressed more in my career than he has and earn a higher income than he does. My husband tends to be mediocre and not very ambitious. He didn't get along well with his bosses either.

Somehow, over all of these years, I have been the party forking out the most money for children's education, children's maintenance, household utilities, insurance, and household items including electrical goods. On top of that, I have to do all household chores like a maid but am treated worse than a maid--for example, I am the last one to eat after they have eaten. He has no respect for me--he will mess up the place, throwing newspaper everywhere after reading it, wear shoes in the house, and more. After being married for so many years, he has never taken me on any vacation except our honeymoon.

My husband's unwillingness to take care of our financial needs actually makes me resent the marriage. For many years I have been thinking of leaving him, but I stay on because of the children. I am a traditional woman and I have been tolerating. Am I wrong for feeling that I have totally lost my love for him, not to mention my desire for sex?
--Business Woman

Dear Business,
The clue to dealing with your unhappiness might lie in one of the last statements in your letter: you consider yourself a traditional woman. I think it's quite wonderful to choose to be a traditional woman, provided you update the idea of what "traditional" means and clear it out of any ingredients that make you feel used and exploited. By traditional, maybe you mean making a good home, caring for your spouse, and letting him make choices, about vacations, for instance. But I don't think any traditional woman wants to feel like a maid and get no help from her spouse.

Besides, in some ways you are not traditional. You're making more money than your husband and you are competent at your job, whereas he is not. Maybe it's time to take a less simplistic view of marriage. Maybe it isn't enough to be traditional, but to also be a new kind of woman, one who won't tolerate bearing the entire financial weight of a marriage and the sole responsibility for making the home livable and gracious. As much as the desire to be traditional can enrich your life, and perhaps tie it back to your memories of family, it may need to be made more sophisticated with new ideas and arrangements.

There are some clear clues that things are not as they should be. Not wanting sex is like a loud bell ringing: Time for radical change! Feeling like a maid: A sign of masochism in a relationship, perhaps some willingness and even satisfaction in being used. You seem stuck in this demeaning place. How could you ask whether you are right in your complaints? Your case is strong. Your last question is part of the problem. Start believing in yourself.

You have been longsuffering. Do you know what thoughts inside you, have kept you from leaving or at least bringing the matter to a head? Your children are grown and no longer need you, if they ever did, in an exploited union with a lazy slob, to sum up your description.

You could try confronting your husband and letting him know in clear and unambiguous terms how your feel. Of course, you would have done this by now if there weren't something keeping you quiet.

Before you talk to him, you could meditate for a few minutes. It may not be in your nature to be tough with him, but think about being firm. Don't be intimidated by his usual reactions. Don't stop until you have made some progress. Take some manageable risks with him, one talk at a time. And know from the beginning that you have legitimate complaints that, left unaddressed, will destroy your marriage or your happiness.

Being a traditional woman could mean living a graceful lifestyle in a home you love with a person you want to care for. But if this ideal is a rationalization for being used, then you are using the worst and darkest meaning of "traditional." You have to either update your ideal or trade it in for a version of the "new woman" that is suited to you and that you can enjoy. It's definitely time to re-invent yourself and identify completely with the intelligent and capable woman you are. Don't wait for your husband to change his habits. It's up to you to bring life into this sexless, unhappy home--or make another one that is alive, equal, and brilliantly traditional.

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